It is a pleasure for Latino Press to interview in this first month of the year, a person who is an example for other hispanic women, because of her simplicity and life trajectory which inspires that they can always go further and fight for their goals and dreams; we are talking about Raquel Garcia, a resident of SW Detroit.
Raquel, since when did you come to SW Detroit to live and how was your adaptation to this city and to the cold winter?
I came to visit in 1992 and fell in love with Detroit. I applied to Wayne State University to see how many of my credits would transfer. The process was so easy and welcoming that it helped me make up my mind to stay. Adapting to winter was not so easy and I still struggle with the cold and darkness. I play a lot of mental games to get through the winter like how many walks can I take while there is still light or can I repot every plant I have before December. I stay outside in the garden as long as I can tolerate the cold. If you are properly clothed, you can take walks outside, and when I cannot be outside, I go through papers and books and try to organize rooms.
What do you think are the difficulties and challenges faced by a woman in this community?
I think the difficulties are that most women are extremely aspirational for their family, their children, and their community. When the connection lines to resources are not always visible or easy to navigate, a situation or problem can seem hopeless. But the resources are there! There are connections to health and legal resources. There are connections to their city councilperson. There are jobs and paid training right now. Resources are just not always visible. When you feel an urgency in your heart, waiting is intolerable.
How was your experience at Global Detroit?
Global Detroit was fantastic! It was a place where I could dream and approach the community with a blank slate. Outreach to families for various projects gave us feedback and we received direction from the community on what resources or information was lacking. The most profound project was working with the Detroit Land Bank Authority to connect families to auction homes that could be rebuilt. The fundamental thing is that most families want an asset that can provide the family with wealth. These homes, this asset, can fund a wedding or an education and beyond that, these homes provide stability and safety to the family. Global Detroit knows that social justice includes access to jobs, education, and financial stability.
You have always had the dream that the community has vegetables and has its own vegetables and fruits, where does that inspiration come from?
So much of what we touch comes from a store. Everything we see is made by someone else. We live in over-commercialized times that see the value of a person only when they are consuming and purchasing. We used to make our own furniture, clothes, and homes, too! My grandfather in San Antonio, Texas built the home he lived as my own father did, Jose Garcia. We live in different times that do not always allow the time or resources to make these things, BUT every spring, we have the opportunity to touch the land, plant seeds, and develop a relationship with plants that feed us. Growing our food requires that we slow our brains down and pay attention to the plants’ needs. We connect to the importance of the seasons, the sun, and rain. We take care of the plants, harvest, know where our food is coming from and they take care of us physically and spiritually! It makes it easier to honor our families, the food that we have, and the essential workers that help get the food to us.
What makes you have such a tremendous passion for people and this community?
I learned a long time ago that we need to be involved with systems that directly affect us and our community. There are a lot of systems that are old and archaic and need updating. We need to struggle to make sure that we have a voice in these systems. The most surprising part of understanding that large systems, municipal systems need changes, is that they often already know and when I expect to bang on the door and demand to be let in, they are looking for community members and are ready to invite us in! The passion comes from knowing that we all benefit from engaging systems and policy. There will be many, many people that you and I will never meet, but having had the chance to work with you, I know that we have worked hard to remove barriers to purchasing homes, lending, municipal services, and grow the reach of the Detroit ID. We worked with many teams across the city to make it better for all of us. We cannot do it alone and we cannot just do it for our own families. We, and our friends, work for families that we do not know just as others have paved the way for us.
In this new challenge with Southwest Detroit Environmental Vision (SDEV) what are your dreams, hopes, and goals?
I have just spent the last year learning about the organization and us as a team. SDEV does great work in preventing emissions from reaching our street and working with partners to develop policies that advance clean air in our neighborhoods. This year, our garden produced almost two tons or almost 4,000 pounds of fresh produce for residents. We create a place for volunteers and youth to connect with the earth and each other. My hope is that SDEV is a flat organization with many values-based leaders that one day will go off and lead other organizations with a member and values-based vision. My foundational idea is that even organizations that are based on social justice or environmental justice can still avoid to damage people of color with power dynamics. I hope that we can create a place that really investigates how to share power, how to empower everyone, and puts action and policy behind our theory and values. I will report back what we find!
After all your experience, what is your message for women? My message is that your dreams are wide open! If you can dream it, it is available, but it does take some work and some of that work is internal and has to be done with a quiet mind. We have to spend the time visualizing what you want, know why you want it, and spend time practicing the steps to reach your destination. I know that sayings like, “know yourself” are overused, but in this case, I believe that it is true. When I set my course to work in the community, with youth, and with gardens, you could not put anything else in front of me to distract me from my goal. It was clarifying, actually. It is a relief to be able to say, no, I will not chase something down a rabbit hole because I knew what my desired outcome looked like. We are sometimes afraid to be specific and I think that dreams will not happen if they are not specific.
Raquel Garcia has been part of the following organizations:
– Director of Housing and Special Projects for Global Detroit.
– Organizer of immigrants’ rights, organizer of electoral campaigns.
– Member of the Detroit City Council Immigration Task Force.
– Co-chair of the Immigrant Support Services Committee.
– Board member of the Detroit Hispanic Development Corporation.
– Member of the DTE Community Advisory Board.
Thanks to Raquel Garcia, we wish you the best of success for this 2021.